President Addresses Protests and Police at Faculty Meeting

At the April 26 faculty meeting, Elliott said he could not commit to ruling out police presence at future protests, but said it would always be a last resort. He also announced this year’s honorary degree recipients.

At Friday’s faculty meeting, President Michael Elliott congratulated Professor Martha M. Umphrey on her appointment as provost and dean of the faculty, announced the honorary degree recipients for the class of 2024, and responded to concerns about policing campus protests.

“I’m incredibly grateful to the search committee [for the provost and dean of the faculty],” Elliott said. “I was truly gratified to see how many people were willing to step forward and think about taking on a role like that. It made me feel superb about the future of faculty leadership.”

Elliott went on to recognize the work of current Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein, who received a lengthy standing ovation.

He continued by announcing the names of this year’s honorary degree recipients, in alphabetical order.

These include: Duke Professor Ingrid Daubechies, a Belgian ethicist and mathematician; Lauren Groff ’00, award-winning novelist; Elaine Kim, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley and pivotal leader in the field of Asian American Studies; Alexis Massol Gonzalez, co-founder of Casa Pueblo, a Puerto-Rican environmental organization focused on sustainability and cultural values; Jason Moran, jazz pianist and composer; and Junius Williams ’63, attorney and civil rights activist.

“I’m very happy to welcome these people to campus and I know you will too. A lot of work goes into making that possible and I appreciate the people in my office who help with those invitations and arrangements,” Elliott said. “Those names, those careers, celebrate what’s really wonderful about a place like Amherst.”

Elliott added that some of the events transpiring on other college campuses run counter to the values of the honorary recipients.

Although Elliott acknowledged that people in the room do not agree on everything that colleges and universities should be doing in the context of the war in Gaza, he said he was “shocked to see that speakers are being canceled from commencements as well as some of the activity that’s going on [across other campuses] to repress what looks like otherwise peaceful speech.”

He said that his job was not to micromanage different campuses, but he reminded the faculty of the college’s principles as an educational institution: not to tell students what to believe, but to teach them to think.

Professor of Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies Katrina Karkazis said that recent police violence against staff, faculty and students at protests has been weighing on her mind. “Frankly, I find it horrifying,” Karkazis said. “My sense is that a contributor to what has been happening on other campuses is related to not having a plan in place … I want to know if the administration is willing to commit to not meeting that activism with police and police violence.”

Elliott said he couldn’t commit to that, but it would be the very last resort. The college has reached out to students interested in engaging in protests and is actively involved in planning for a variety of these activities, he said.

“I would love to say never, but after having gone through a pandemic, I think it’s hard to say never,” Elliott added.

Then, Epstein shared tenure statistics for 2023, where out of the 104 faculty members up for tenure, 91.8% received tenure. Out of that 91.8%, 90% of the men received tenure and 93.2% of the women did. Nine faculty members were denied tenure.

The faculty moved to include a memorial minute for late Professor Franklin Odo, a scholar, activist, and leader in the field of AAPI studies.